Macedonian leaders risk facing sanctions if they continue to block a new government and stoke inter-ethnic conflict, EU mediators dealing with a crisis in the Balkan country have warned. Gjorge Ivanov, president of Macedonia, has refused to give Zoran Zaev, the opposition leader backed by a majority of MPs elected in December, a mandate to form a government.
Around 50,000 Macedonians took to the streets in Skopje recently, protesting against a coalition government between Social Democrats and ethnic Albanians, which they perceive as a threat to the country’s national unity. Ethnic Albanian parties, who effectively have a kingmaker role due to their backing of Zaev, have controversially demanded that Albanian be made an official language across Macedonia.
Ethnic Albanians make up around one quarter of the country’s 2.1 million inhabitants, but president Ivanov, an ally of Nikola Gruevski, the former prime minister, accuses Mr Zaev of undermining Macedonia’s sovereignty by promising the ethnic Albanian minority greater language rights.
The threat of targeted measures against Macedonia’s ruling elite echoes events in Ukraine in 2014, when restrictions were imposed on senior figures in the final phases of Viktor Yanukovich’s government. EU leaders are preoccupied by growing political instability in the Balkans, with Jean-Claude Juncker, European Commission president, warning of the risk of war if countries have no prospect of EU membership.
Macedonia has been mired in deep political upheaval for the past two years sparked by a wiretapping scandal. Gruevski is accused by the Social Democrats of having ordered the wiretapping of thousands of his rivals, including religious, media and other public figures.